Stress is the body’s way of dealing with a threat under a demanding situation. With the growing frustrations and deadlines which constitute a major part of our modern lives, stress could be damaging to our relationships and mood and accentuate the cause of serious mental and physical conditions. There could be various possible causes of stress which may interfere with the quality of the lives we lead. Often stress may find its place in our ever increasing appetite, resulting in overweight and destroy our will power to implement a healthy lifestyle.
There are a few very common yet unknown factors leading to stress which might account for obesity and therefore, a very unhealthy lifestyle. Firstly, it is the brain which senses any stressful event in our environment and signals the body to respond or react to it accordingly. This reaction is triggered by the release of some chemicals in the body including primarily adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline primarily prepares the body for a fight or flight response in the response to a threat. However, when its effect wears off, cortisol ie. the stress hormone finds its way and continuously pushes our system to replenish the energy reserves of our body to overcome the effect of the stressor. This calls for consumption of food which could supply our body with more fat and carbohydrates to give us the energy to function normally in a stressful situation like this.
Unlike our ancestors, chronic stress that predominates a large part of our lives leads to a direct deposition of fat in the lower belly. This is to keep up with the adequate blood supply to our system in response to the release cortisol. However, the disadvantage of having this extra visceral layer deposited in the belly could be very challenging to get rid of because it slows down all the metabolic activities of our system. The need to supply sufficient glucose levels in the brain to deal with rigorous mental and physical activities in response to stress consequentially leads us towards overeating which is implicated in obesity.
Besides, anxiety can lead us to feel so activated that it can make us overexert to burn a few extra calories but it can also make us feel so worked up mentally, that we could spend hours eating mostly unhealthy food, sitting on that couch. Sitting in that one position has proven to tempt us to eat more junk completely unaware of the taste of the food we may eat, without the urge to burn those calories. In spite of all the food that has been consumed, an inactive person under stress may continue to feel hungry.
Long work hours and stress may lead people to eat more of comfort foods, high in fat and sugar content. Not just the cortisol levels, but being able to associate unhealthy fast food as a stress-reliever could be a potential cause of obesity. Insomnia and sleep deprivation has also been identified as a possible cause of obesity among individuals. An overactive mind crowded with stressful thoughts could affect the sugar levels in the brain resulting in fatigue and physical weakness. The intake of coffee or alcohol to keep up or feel better in a similar situation has a worse effect on our sleep cycle. The ability to resist any temptation is the consequence of an inadequate sleep the previous night. Sleep deprivation affects the production of chemicals like ghrelin and leptin which monitors our appetite.
However, in spite of going through a lot of stress and knowing how it could lead to obesity or overweight, there are a lot of measures that could be taken at a personal level to overcome obesity. Indulging in physical exercises, for example, could not only improve our performance or mood but also improve our metabolism preventing that extra layer of fat from getting deposited in our body. Also, participating in mindful eating programs trains us to control our appetite in response to stress and be more conscious of our food habits. These programs may also include meditation to control our feeling of hunger or fullness in response to eating. Undertaking leisure activities such as hiking, taking yoga classes, writing out our thoughts in a journal or spending some quality time with our family and friends may help us to release our mental stress and improve our mood.
Stress could be the outcome of challenges in life with respect to education, work, relationships, family, money, pessimism and chronic worry. However, stress may lead to certain cognitive, physical, behavioral and emotional symptoms which may be very challenging to overcome. Stress within its comfort zone is easy to counter and could help us to function under pressure and motivate us to perform better. However, when unchecked over a continuous period of time it may be associated with various clinical conditions. Therefore, it is necessary to undertake relevant measures to counter the effects of stress which could prove to be detrimental to our health, mood and performance.